Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is a nightmare for campus sexual assault survivors.
The Week reports a new plan was recently introduced by the Trump administration that would rollback some of the most consequential Title IX protections that were initially introduced by the Obama administration.
In 2011, a “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the Obama Administration called for universities to use a “preponderance of evidence” standard, which means “the accused can be found responsible if it seems more likely than not that the allegation is true,” according to the New York Times. Under Trump era guidelines “preponderance of evidence” is no longer the only advised standard, instead universities are given the option between “preponderance of evidence” and a “clear and convincing” standard, which if implemented by universities would be much harder to prove.
“I remember when I received my Title IX training, I was comforted by all the restrictions and structures that were put in place,” explained Mary-Elizabeth Thompson, former Victim Support Specialist Intern for the Office of Anti-Violence Initiatives at the College of New Jersey. “Hearing all about how the accused didn’t have to face the accuser, that the standard of evidence was reasonable, and that investigations were mandated to take place within a reasonable amount of time was all nice to hear. I thought that if I was ever a victim of campus rape, the cards were stacked in my favor and that reporting would be much easier and more efficient than criminal investigations. After hearing this news, that comfort is taken away.”
Under the new guidelines, alleged sexual assault victims may have less protections and may be subjected to re-traumatizing experiences like having to face their assailant.
According to the Washington Post, this past July, DeVos met with far-right men’s rights activist groups, including the National Coalition for Men and Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, who have expressed anti-rape laws have “gone too far.”
Advocates for sexual assault survivors, including current undergraduate activists, are outraged by the new measures.
“College and universities will no longer be forced to uphold the Obama-era Title IX guidelines, which have done a lot to strengthen the rights of survivors of sexual and domestic violence on campus,” explained Grace Maute, a senior studying social work and public policy at Ramapo College of New Jersey, in an interview with Helloflo. “Because of those guidelines, students have become empowered across the country to hold their administrations accountable and ensure they comply with federal guidelines. Without that backing, it will be much more difficult for students on more conservative campuses to get the institutional support that is so needed.”
While DeVos and the Trump administration question how prevalent campus sexual violence actually is, across the nation and across genders, the statistics are difficult to dispute. According to the Rape and Incest National Network, 23.1 percent of women undergraduate students and 5.4 percent of men undergraduate students “experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.” (RAINN does not include a statistic for survivors who identify as neither male nor female.)
“The onslaught of rollbacks feels like what little progress has been made has been entirely wiped out, but I am energized by smaller-scale attempts to combat rape culture, like by holding events on campus and ensuring that first-year students have a comprehensive understanding of their rights as members of the campus community,” Maute added.